This photograph shows the original terminus of the Central Pacific Railroad. Shot from the water alongside the Central Pacific Railroad wharf on the Sacramento River, it reveals how cargo was loaded on the decks of the sailing ships and how much railroad material came into the Sacramento River by water. Notice how small the boxcars are and the limited amount of material they could hold.
The sailing vessels in the Hart photo appear to be scow schooners up from San Francisco Bay. These were a very common type of vessel used on the Bay into the early years of the 20th century, and one is preserved at the National Maritime Museum in SF. (Information courtesy of John Snyder)
FROM A CONTEMPORARY TOURIST GUIDE
From Crofutt's Transcontinental Tourist's Guide, 1871:
"The floods swept over it as with a besom of destruction in the winter of '51-2, and the waters were rushing with irresistible force through every street. When they abated, the people went to work and built levees around their city and fancied themselves secure. Again the floods came in the winter of '61-2; Sacramento was again innundated. To guard against a recurrence of these evils, the city bed was raised above the highest known tide, and instead of wearing away a levee, the angry waters find a solid mass of earth, on which stands the city, against which their efforts at destruction are futile. To any one who has not resided on this coast, it may at first seem strange that a city should have been located in the midst of such dangers. When Sacramento was laid out, both the Sacramento and the American rivers had bold banks, above the reach of any floods. But when the thousands of miners commenced tearing down the mountains and pouring the debris into the rivers, the sediment gradually filled up the river bed from 12 to 18 feet above its former level. Consequently, when the spring sun unlocked the vast volume of water confined in the mountain snows, and sent it foaming and seething in its mad power to the plains, the old and half filled channel could not contain it, and a large body of the country was annually inundated. Levees were tried in vain; the mighty torrent would not be confined; hence the necessity of raising the city about its ravages. This has been accomplished; and beyond the present line of the high grade, a powerful levee surrounds the unfilled portion of the city, on which is a railroad track, forming an iron circle or band, which no past floods had power to break."(Crofutt, 178)
In the current photo, the re-growth of vegetation obscures the dramatic changes in the landscape required to push the railroad through.